Counteractual Futures

Fictional people, not unlike real people, occupy here-and-now worlds striated with spatiotemporal counteractuals.

The future. It isn’t here yet; it’s not actual. The future you want, or the one you fear, might never materialize. What you do now, or what you fail to do, might alter the future. Or it might not. Is the not-yet-now a predetermined certainty, as real as are the present and the past, or are its contours susceptible to intentional intervention? If you see the future coming on, can you be somewhere else when it arrives? Can you prepare yourself now for an inescapable future, so that when it finally does arrive it’s as if you’ve already lived through it?

Some illustrations of future counteractuals from Flânerie 1:

You will work on a single manuscript in near silence for years, during the course of which you will realize your best work, brilliant and exhilarating. 1

Second person future tense, the whole story: is this an aspiration or a prophecy, a promise or a warning?

Hypnotically summoning Muslims to come, congregate and beseech in a physical and emotional orchestration of prayer.  2

Is it an invitation or a command, this summons, triggering not the conscious assent of the congregants  but their hypnotic pull into a future that cannot be resisted?

When [the sculptor] stopped for a break she would tell him about Catalino’s warning. But, for a little while, being there was all and everything she wanted. It was still too soon to see what he would make of the stone. It was still a block of potential. She understood there was a possibility he would fail in conception, or in execution; maybe both.  3

Will she warn him about the warning, expecting him to take appropriate action to counteract an undesired future, or will she merely report it? The future is unformed potential, its fulfillment uncertain, dependent on one’s making it happen or making it not happen, succeeding in both conception and execution.

Arsen would tell her, wiping the blood from his mouth, disoriented and exhilarated: It is like something swelling in me, and I think I am close to discovering something, something very, very important, and at the precise moment when I think I have it, I have my hands finally around it, I fall into a darkness and then I open my eyes to see you.  4

On the temporal threshold of an enlightenment that escapes you: has it failed to happen, receding into past or future, or do you now fail to grasp it, your open eyes perceiving only darkness?

If Mama went to the store for a minute but you are pretty sure she’s never coming back, please mash all of the keys but mostly 1.  5

Help! This present minute will extend, with a high degree of certainty, into an eternal future.

You’re my friend, Eric! My friend. If I am gay, do you think I’m going to sneak into your bed at night when you’re asleep? Do you think that’s what I want to do?  6

A furtive nocturnal future: whose fear, whose desire?

Do you want to be cool, but accessible? Or do you want to be greedy, right under the surface, mixed with an insouciance that’s irresistible?”  7

What do you want to be? If in the future you become what you want, will you still want what you’ve become?


Skip Fox, “Sortilege”

Haitham Alsarraf, “Friday Prayers”

Mark Jacobs, “Old School”

Naira Kuzmich, “Cadenza”

Sara Given, “Toddler Feelings Helpline”

Juan Alvarado Valdivia, “A Pedestrian Question”

Robin Wyatt Dunn, “The Plastic Woman”


Flânerie 4


Ms. Apuzzo had asked us to address spatial language. But what I experienced in this room was the absence of spaces. What kind of places had these animals guarded? Maybe the place had been desertlike but surely it did not look like the deserts on the news. The temples these guards had protected were long fallen, the landscape these two knew long changed. It might happen all at once or over decades, but landscapes changed all the time. Parts of cities were destroyed, then rebuilt, then changed utterly. Eventually even the guards were destroyed, lost, or forgotten. Eventually new people showed up and stood around and took notes on the remains. I thought of my father’s parents. Perhaps my father’s parents, when they first met after the war, had been forced by tragedy to let their guards down with one another, had catalogued their losses together, and fallen in love that way. Their how-we-met story seemed newly beautiful to me, standing here. I stepped closer to one of the lion-bull creatures, looked up at its human face again. Its eyes were blank, pupilless, yet not altogether empty.  1


His interest in cards began as a boy, when his father’s friend removed a pack from his pocket and set it on the table before Anselmus. The deck itself, which the man proceeded to shuffle, was perfectly ordinary. What was remarkable was what he did with it: following the shuffle and a final cut, he began turning the cards over, one after the other, as if turning over the pages of a book where a story was unfolding, an improvised tale of two princes on a quest for the three-jeweled crown of an ancient king; and of the queen and jester they met at a seven-towered castle after a five-day journey through a dark forest… a wondrous story built from randomness, the deck a book with 52 illustrations that would never tell the same tale again. It was only years later that, while speaking with his father, Anselmus learned the truth: the shuffle had been false, the order of the cards and the resulting story memorized, the entire thing a kind of parlor trick the friend had performed every chance he got. Anselmus’s father exposed his friend with relish, as if eager to awaken his son, already a budding collector, to the deceit that had given birth to his foolish pursuit, but by this time, however much Anselmus might have been disillusioned, the cards had already begun to take on meaning for him that couldn’t be destroyed by any such revelation.  2

The Other Side
“On the other side. Over there when I sit for a meal it is in a
grand hall, on soft velvet chairs. I eat from fine china and silver.
There are proper beds in the chambers, there.” Her eyes close as
she recalls the blueprint of the house she says she comes from.  3


Mid-morning, we’re crisp and forgotten, my severed hand draped across her missing back—beautiful, American.  4

I was thinking of asking her to teach me but I’ve already asked her plenty and truth be told was never any good at remembering rules. It used to drive her mother nuts. Every time we played cards, I’d screw up the game by playing by the wrong rule. If we played poker, I’d yell gin and throw down my cards. If we played old maid, I’d keep telling everyone to “go fish.” Driving her nuts, for me, was the best part of the games. Fucking with her was my royal flush.  5

The Other Side

So soon. So soon. There was no time to ready myself. Who would have thought this crossing would come so soon?


The dentist remarks on what a good patient I am being. His hands are in my mouth. My fear keeps me compliant. My limbic system divided. I could not be here. I could not be elsewhere.  7


Lee Conell, “Here, Beauties”

S.P. Tenhoff, “Some Notes on the Geerts Manuscript”

Brian Schulz, “Rain”

Ron Riekki, “PTSD”

Kent Kosack, “The Mannequin Game”

Jacqueline Doyle, “Five Rivers in Hades”

Sade LaNay, “Entry 038::After Ash Wednesday>>Moon Quincunx Pluto”

Photo Source

Flânerie 3


She hadn’t had any particular feelings about classical music then, hardly did even now, but had always gotten a vaguely erotic thrill from watching people do things they were very good at. It never mattered what the things were, the mastery was what did her in. She had once fallen momentarily but completely in love with an excavator operator, who let a cigarette dangle from his lip while he moved the digger’s claw through the dirt so gracefully it seemed more animal than machine . It had been a long time since she had seen anything like that, though. There wasn’t much building happening anymore. There wasn’t much expertise either, now that she thought of it.  1


The coffin emerged from the mortuary, borne on the strong shoulders of grandsons and neighbours. It was slid into the back of the hearse. I adapted the demeanour of a character I’d seen in a film who had mastered a deadpan expression. The line of the cheek-bone is taut, the small lips are pursed. The pupils in the blue-grey eyes penetrate the gloom. Are you going for a pint, Harry the Hat asked? Can a swim duck, as the great man said, I said, but later, in some strange confusion found myself alone.  2


And part of me needs to believe this: that deep in the American deserts, a caravan of camels lumber through the pitch night, unencumbered by humans, no longer burdened by us at all.  3


The Russian alphabet is comprised of foreign signs that only foreign men can interpret. Moscow. It is a heavy word, I think, like gray rock, or hard skin. Russia, land of churches and cloisters. Where they flogged themselves in naked cellars and called out for their savior in an incomprehensible tongue and without music. Holy Russia. Ivan the Terrible, murdered in a cloister, in front of an altar. Icons, flickering candles. Outside, the winter gloaming, the winter storm and the endless steppe. But across the steppe, troikas of men lashing violently with their whips in a halfway-upright stance.  4


“It almost sounded like fear.”
The light of the train came bearing down on them out of the darkness. They stepped closer to the edge of the platform.
“You don’t forget what that sounds like.”
“I hear you.”
“Yeah, I know you do.”
They watched as the train slowed to a stop. When the doors opened, the two men climbed aboard.
“It sounds like a siren. Or a baby crying.”
They disappeared into the warm car. They kept talking about what it sounded like.  5


After she left, I started thinking a lot about Kafka. I felt I had to deserve him. I started dressing a little more conservatively. I tried to make myself scarce and to be deferential. I argued with my father. I exercised in front of open windows. I started rooting for the underdog. That’s how I met the new girl.
Since I found myself with so much time on my hands (sans-girlfriend), I started watching movies that were nominated for Oscars but didn’t win. It felt like a mustache-appropriate hobby. Melanie and I both reached for The Birds at the same time. I could’ve let it go, but I had to see where the story would lead. I told her about my loser-movie marathon.
The Birds wasn’t nominated for Best Picture,” she said. We discussed the ones that were that year and settled on How the West Was Won. The movie was so long I couldn’t make it to the end before I had to tell her about Kafka’s mustache.
“It’s wild,” she said. “Can you imagine. Whose beard do you have under there?”
I didn’t want to think about that.  6


In the high school’s parking lot I see two cop cars by the gate. At first I think they’re looking at my beard, but then I realize I’m wrong. My beard is not as big as I thought it was.  7


Amy Shearn, “New City”

Edward McWhinney, “Prayers”

Robert James Russell, “Weird West”

Dag Solstad, “Moscow”

Paul Krenshaw, “Last Train”

Ben Black, “Kafka’s Mustache

Eric Braun, “My Beard”

Photo Source


Flânerie 2


And my further deliberations led me to the following: the single, solitary footprint in the field, the long trail of footprints abruptly ending in the middle of the street and, now, that circle of footprints on the white plain, together, form a triad.  1


He must be doing what the therapist has suggested. Mindfulness. “But you can have the last word,” he promises, doing his best to appear mature.
“My last words are: serial killer. His eyes were bullet holes!”
“There’s nothing wrong with his eyes.”
“Death row eyes!”
“Jesus!” Dan sprints ahead of me and he’s no sprinter. Then, winded, he waits up and turns around. “It used to be the odds that interested me. Favorites, long shots, Exactas. There are rules, but they’re always being broken. There’s order, but there’s chaos, too. You never stop learning: heart-rending races with big-hearted horses.”
“Poetic, dear. We really should walk more.”  2


I cut the corners off a fifty-dollar bill from the middle of my wallet, and settle in to watch whatever HBO plays next. It’s “Batman vs. Superman,” and by the time it’s over, the shower’s running cold, and the mirror looks like it’s crying. 3


The realtor had told her an old woman had lived alone in the house until her death, but she hadn’t told Suhaila the rest: that the old woman had died in her sleep in Suhaila’s master bedroom, that she had passed away in the very corner where Suhaila’s bed was now wedged against the wall. The woman had lain for days before a neighbor noticed six copies of the local paper on the step.  4


He turns back to the street. “Do you think I could jump this?” He points to the gap between the balcony and the building next door. Our townhouse is the last in the row, and the building next door is a three-storey apartment complex with a flat roof. He grips the railing, testing. “I would need to take a running start,” he says, “from the roof or something.”
I say, “No one’s allowed to die on my birthday.”
“You know, lots of people have already died on your birthday.” He hands me the cigar. I give it back and light a cigarette instead.  5


There was the clicking of hooves against the marble floor, and I thought, I will never feel as strange as this.  6


“I’m Dr. Fennel,” he said. “How can we help you today?”
“Well, like I told her, I lost my two front teeth during the night…”
“You’ll have to schedule an appointment with our denturist to discuss replacements.”
“But I have the teeth with me.” Arto opened his hand.
“Uh, yes well. There’s nothing we can do with them now.”
“You can’t, like, try to put them back in?”
“As I said, sir, you’d best talk to the denturist about that, and Ms. Bellows here can schedule a consultation for you.”
“Should I put them in milk or something till I do?”
“Talk to the denturist. And by the way, our rates are posted on the wall there. Study them closely.”
Arto glanced over the tables and figures. They made no sense to him. He suffered from undiagnosed dyslexia. He felt crushed. He walked out of the crowded clinic without booking the consultation. He held his hand to his mouth as he rushed back to the rooming house.  7


References and Links

Jiří Kratochvil, “Footprint III”

2  Barbara Bottner, “The Cartoon Wife”

Jeff Simonds, “Four Days After Carrie Fisher Died”

Jennifer Zeynab Joukhadar, “The Peaceable Night”

Ellie Sawatzky, “So Long, Mary-Ann”

Peter Kispert, “Paid Vacation”

Salvatore Difalco, “The Teeth”

Photo Source


Flânerie 1


After sanding every appositive and polishing each comma, you will send it to the finest English-language literary publisher in the world, a man of profound understanding and exquisite tastes who funds the press out of his rear pocket, stuffed with a staggering fortune in steel. He will be the only man capable of seeing your work for what it is on the first pass. While reading your manuscript one long summer afternoon, “Here it is! Here it is!” will be heard coming, at approximately half-hour intervals, from his second story office, the “At last” unnecessary, implied in his exclamations’ very torque.  1


He enters the mosque compound before going to the rectangular bathroom to perform wudu — ablution, where he robotically drenches and systemically cleanses the face, beard, ears, fingers and palms, wrists and elbows, and toes and ankles. Sandals, initially left outside, are then reworn — and immediately taken off — to enter the main wide mosque doors, where carpet arabesques paint the floor and equal amounts of Arabic calligraphy surreally encapsulate the walls, spiritually caving out a tightly woven meditation.  2


The biggest cat she ever saw, white and black, made its way across the deep red tiles of the patio flexing its shoulder muscles and looking up. Esteban pointed to the birdcages it fixed on, out of reach.
“Here’s the question,” he said.
“I’m ready.”
“All those exquisite feathered creatures, an orgy of killing and eating just waiting to happen, and the cat will never catch a single one of them. I make sure of that.”
“So what’s the question?”
“The cat’s existence.”
“Is it Heaven, or Hell, or someplace in between.”
“Purgatory, you mean.”
He shrugged. There was no faking that indifference. She was stalling for time. The answer she came up with would seal her Paraguayan fate.
“In the morning it’s Heaven,” she told him. “In the afternoon it’s Hell. In the evening it’s Purgatory, to the extent that a cat can remember disappointment.”  3


Once he seized in the middle of a performance and no one knew. Sometimes his seizures were like that, so far deep in the head that it barely located itself in the body. No one knew, of course, except for her, watching from the front row, like she always did. Before, she used to watch for pleasure. Now she anticipated pain. She recognized it in the back of his neck—his head inched down slowly, like he was trying to withdraw into his chest, and his shoulders narrowed. In his hands, the batons continued their movement, but the world between them was smaller now, and the orchestra hastened to keep abreast of this new changing world. The back of his head, so bare and pale, folded over so that all she saw was neck, a headless man swinging his hands whichever way they’d go.  4


Hello, you have reached the Toddler Feelings Helpline. Please choose from the following options:  5


Gabriel and Eric walked halfway down the block in silence. Though it was hardly observable, Gabriel noticed that Eric walked a step further from him than he had all day, or the day before when they strolled along the Santa Monica Promenade.

“Why do you think she asked us?” Eric said, a jagged edge in his voice. “Do you think we look gay to her?”  6

“Are you ready for a new version of you?”
“Yes, honey,” I say. “I’m ready for it. Who is the new me going to be?”
“Oh, it all depends! You have to give me some input! Do you want to be cool, but accessible? Or do you want to be greedy, right under the surface, mixed with an insouciance that’s irresistible?”
“I just want to be normal. Just kidding. I don’t know, I want it all, darling, give me the full package!”
The plastic woman, who has not been deterred in the slightest by my removal of her right arm, is a little overwhelming, to be honest. I think about removing her head but I know this would be rude, and that it wouldn’t shut her up, either. Across the sales floor in other artfully lit alcoves, other customers gab away with their plastic attendants.  7


References and LInks:

Skip Fox, “Sortilege”

Haitham Alsarraf, “Friday Prayers”

Mark Jacobs, “Old School”

Naira Kuzmich, “Cadenza”

Sara Given, “Toddler Feelings Helpline”

Juan Alvarado Valdivia, “A Pedestrian Question”

Robin Wyatt Dunn, “The Plastic Woman”


Fiction Writers Survey 1: Reasons to Write

Could writers and readers of fiction jointly run an open access e-book publishing house of distinction? Would they want to?

This is the first of several surveys exploring the possibilities. If you’re a fiction writer, please answer this short questionnaire. When you’re finished, click the *submit* button.

Interim results from this survey will be posted next week here on Ficticities. There will also be a second survey. So come back, have a look, be heard.


I’m pretty much ready to go — the Phase 1 contents of Ficticities are taken down, the new categories are set up, the first questionnaire is written and formatted for data collection, the procedure for populating the site with content clearly specified. So why do I hesitate in launching Phase 2? Why don’t I want to get started with finding and reading those short fictions, excerpting them into virtual flânerie posts, luring writers to the site, encouraging them to fill out the surveys, amassing findings about whether fiction writers could and would want to join forces in a syndicated publishing house?

For one thing, I don’t much like reading short stories. I admire them I suppose, but most seem concerned with people and their relationships, with something happening to those people that moves the narrative along on a forward trajectory. I.e., I don’t like most short stories because they’re stories.

The idea is to find writers of short fictions, then see whether they’d like to write long fictions together. But what if the short story writers just want to write long stories, or several short stories linked and intertwined and segued together? I probably wouldn’t want to read those long fictions either.

Phase 1 of Ficticities was a kind of long fiction, with the sequence of blog posts constituting an incremental layout of design specs for an organization that doesn’t exist. I have to acknowledge that the organization I imagined is more intriguing to me than any actual organization is likely to be. Just give it another quarter-turn toward the unlikely and the absurd… Fictional organization design — it’s like fictional architecture, fictional cartography.

For Phase 2, I find myself more interested in the architecture and layout of the fictional City than with the fictional excerpts I’d find for populating it. I’d rather populate the City with my own excerpts, even if there are no larger works from which the excerpts are excerpted. I’m also interested in the surveys, not so much as means of gathering data but as formatted prose poems. The City would be populated by short fictions that aren’t stories; the City would in the aggregate be a long fiction that isn’t a story.

But if I write the City it’s likely to have a population of 1, with no tourists.

So I’m waffling.